NM lawmakers tackle civil rights protections and police accountability

After a year in which police use of lethal force against Black people awakened large swaths of the American public to a discussion about systemic racism, lawmakers in New Mexico are looking to reform policing and better protect civil liberties. 

The Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked mass marches across the country, including in New Mexico, to protest the unequal and dangerous treatment Black people encounter in interactions with police. 

New Mexico is no stranger to calls for greater scrutiny of law enforcement. 

The U.S. Department of Justice forced the state’s largest law enforcement agency into a consent decree after concluding in 2014 the Albuquerque Police Department exhibited a troubling pattern of excessive force, including one of the highest rates in fatal shootings by its police officers. The killings haven’t been limited to APD, either. Between Floyd’s death this Memorial Day and the end of November, there were 11 fatal police-involved shootings across New Mexico, according to local news reports and a database of deadly police shootings maintained by the Washington Post. 

Since 2015, when the Post began compiling data, New Mexico has recorded 115 law-enforcement shootings, New Mexico trails only Alaska for the highest rate of fatal police shootings in that time – 55 per one million residents. Soon after Floyd’s death, the state Legislature passed House Bill 5 that created a temporary New Mexico Civil Rights Commission to investigate and recommend ways to hold public officials to greater account, with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signing the legislation June 26. Nearly four months later, on Oct.

COVID disparities force a public health reckoning

The coronavirus feels the way it looks in widely circulated images, said Cleo Otero: like a thorn. “That’s how it felt inside my body, especially my lungs. It was painful. Like it was scratching the inside of your body. I could really literally feel the virus inside my body.” 

Otero’s first clue she was sick came at the laundromat in Albuquerque where she usually buys a bag of spicy chips as she waits on her clothes.

Midwifery presents important avenue for fighting health disparities

Hill with her granddaughter. (Courtesy of Nandi Andrea Hill)

When Nandi Andrea Hill got pregnant at 21, she knew she wanted to have a home birth but couldn’t find a midwife, so she turned to her mother who coached her to have a natural birth without medical interventions. They planned to go to the hospital for the delivery itself, but the baby came faster than they expected. 

“I ended up birthing her at home unplanned with paramedics that came rushing in my room, eight men. They didn’t catch her, she flew out and she did wonderful. They took me to the hospital, but literally when I was putting her up on my chest—I was in culinary arts—I said I need to be a midwife.

Complexity of colorism

Brittany Clark, a young Mexican-American tattoo artist who grew up in the small border town of Fabens, Texas, recalled two of her classmates coming up to her on a Martin Luther King Jr. Day and asking if she wanted to play. “ ‘Ok let’s see if you can play with us,’ ” they told her. “They put their hands all in a circle and they actually told me I couldn’t play with them because I was ‘too white,’” explained Clark, now 22. Her naturally coiled hair and olive skin paired with the last name Clark make her identity ambiguous by nature. While some call her white, others sometimes assume she is mixed — usually Black with some other unidentified ethnicity or race. 

Clark grew up in the predominantly Hispanic farming town about 20 miles outside of El Paso, Tex.